On this day, 66 years ago, the landscape of Major League Baseball(MLB) was forever changed. On this day, 66 years go, starting at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers was Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson. On this day, 66 years ago, Robinson became the first black man to break through baseball’s elusive color line.
I had every intention of going to see 42, the movie about Robinson’s life, on Friday. However, unforseen circumstances prevented me from attending opening night. And I still have not managed to make it to the theater. This is a movie that I have been excited about for months. As a black woman, I am beaming with pride at the fact that a film depicting the true story of an American legend, who happens to be black, is being shown all across the world. 66 years ago, who would have thought that would ever be a reality?
In 1997, in what I think is one of the most significant moments in baseball history, MLB retired the number 42 across the league. No other players, other than the players that were currently wearing the number 42, would ever wear that number again. EVER. The significance of that transcends beyond baseball. It recognizes a man for not only what he did for baseball but what he did for this country. The Civil Rights Movement had yet to begin in the United States and here was a man who willingly put his life on the line, literally. Was it a popular decision? Of course not. Was there outrage? Of course there was. Were there people who thought there were other players in the Negro League more deserving of being the first? Certainly. 66 years later, all of that is a moot point.
On April 15, 2004, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig officially declared April 15 to be Jackie Robinson Day. Often called the most significant moment in MLB history, Selig stated that “by establishing April 15 as ‘Jackie Robinson Day’ throughout Major League Baseball, we are further ensuring that the incredible contributions and sacrifices he made — for baseball and society — will not be forgotten.” At the end of this baseball season, whenever the New York Yankees finish their season, the last remaining player wearing number 42, Mariano Rivera, will retire. It is fitting that Rivera, a Latin American player who is arguably the greatest closer the game has ever seen, will do his final curtain call wearing the number that means so much to not only blacks but Latin American players as well. In 2011, Rivera called it a privilege and an honor to wear number 42 because of what Jackie represents for us(Latin American players). 66 years ago, who knew that Robinson’s impact would not only be felt in North America but on other continents as well.
So here we are, 66 years later and the impact that Robinson has had on MLB and the world is still being felt in 2013. The next generation is learning about him; what he stood for and the tremendous impact he had on race relations. Those already familiar with his story are having their memories refreshed and are often times learning new tidbits about Robinson. And those that were around in 1947 are recalling what that moment was like for American History. 66 years ago, blacks could not drink out of the same water fountain as whites. 66 years ago, black soldiers, who had served their country during World War II, were treated like second class citizens by the country they fought to defend. 66 years ago, there were black men who were beaten, ridiculed, heckled and lynched because of the color of their skin. 66 years ago, a black man stood courageously at first base as his fellow Americans hurled insults at him and questioned his right to play “their game.” 66 years later, a black man’s bold stance against inequality has resulted in him being called a legend. A hero. An American Treasure.
Thank you Mr. Robinson!!! Happy Jackie Robinson Day!!!